Press Release
April 30, 2008

Villar bats for P1B fund to bring home OFWs in distress

Senate President Manny Villar today pushed for the establishment of a P1-billion fund to provide for the early repatriation and adequate assistance to Filipinos in distress overseas.

"While there may be comprehensive set of laws protecting the overseas workers, its implementation in reality remains wanting. In particular, the funding requirement needed to effect a meaningful and truly caring OFW environment is negligible," Villar said.

Villar added the Constitution, the Labor Code, the Migrant Workers Act, various executive orders and treaties have the same intention of protecting overseas workers but Filipinos in distress continue to swell in number.

"It has been reported that a substantial number of Filipinos are in detention in various countries. The cases of maltreatments, abusive employers and harassments and the proportional upward spike in abductions and wars between and among countries have resulted in the increasing number of OFWs in distress. The Philippine embassies and consulates have been home to these unfortunate migrant workers waiting for repatriation," he said.

Villar cited a Department of Foreign Affairs statistics showing that as of December 2007, there are 28 Filipinos facing death penalty cases: ten in Malaysia, nine in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, four in Kuwait, three in China, one in Brunei Darrusalam and one in the United States of America.

In his recent trip to the Middle East, Villar listened to underage workers tell their stories of abuse, while countless others share how their misfortunes have been aggravated by what appears to be an endless waiting for a ticket back home.

"It is unfortunate that the measly funding that we have for repatriation and assistance are intended only for legal OFWs. Other OFWs must not be marginalized on account of being undocumented. Filipino silang lahat, kaya kailangang tulungan," Villar said.

He noted that in the DFA budget, the combined sum of the Assistance to Nationals and the Legal Assistance Fund, two items used for OFW repatriation, is P66 million.

Villar filed Senate Bill 2231, which seeks to cover both documented and undocumented OFWs in the assistance program of the government.

Villar said it also adds a special mechanism to alleviate the plight of undocumented OFWs and overseas Filipinos in distress by creating a P1 billion Special Fund that can be used for:

a. repatriation;
b. medical expenses, hospitalization and purchase of medicine in the form of vouchers for six months from arrival;
c. migration fees for overstaying Filipinos;
d. legal assistance, including litigation expenses, legal fees, payment of translation fees, attendance in court hearings;
e. payment of blood money, when necessary;
f. basic necessities of OFWs caught in emergencies or are detained

"A substantial portion of the budget must be allotted to support the livelihood programs, or skills acquisition, education and training of OFWs," he said.

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